Alley names are game at public hearing

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 | 8:41 p.m. CDT; updated 9:15 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — If you’re looking for the address of alleyCat Yoga, you’ll find on its Web site that it’s “through Addison’s Alley off Cherry Street.”

But the alley, like every alley in Columbia, lacks an official name.


Who: Planning and Zoning Commission What: Discussion about naming alleys When: 7 p.m. Thursday Where: Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway

“We have given it a name ourselves,” alleyCat owner Ken McRae said of the small lane that runs north and south.

Though Addison’s alley wouldn’t be affected, the move to officially name alleys running east and west through downtown is gaining steam. The public will get a chance to weigh in during a hearing Thursday before the Planning and Zoning Commission.

What’s in a name? Quite a bit when it comes to city building and business regulations, and to emotions. The Columbia City Council for some time has been interested in naming downtown alleys, hoping to encourage more pedestrian traffic downtown and to make better use of space. Plus, the move would allow the council to go forward on pending requests to establish businesses whose sole entrances would be from alleys.

The city for now can’t accommodate such requests because storefronts must have specific street addresses. Without names, alleys fail to meet the criteria

AlleyCat Yoga gets around city ordinances by listing the lobby of the Tiger Hotel as its primary entrance, said Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Public Works Department.

There are other challenges associated with the desire to create prominent businesses entrances from alleys. If it becomes a trend, city Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy said, the city will have to look at creating uniform design standards for alleys.

The narrow width of alleys are the root of most problems cited by the city planning staff. Alleys lack parking and driving space, particularly for those delivering supplies, and they’re often cluttered with Dumpsters and utility fixtures. And even minor construction projects can completely block an alley.

Address numbering could also become complicated, the staff said in its report to the planning commission. On regular streets, odd numbers are on the north and even numbers on the south. Like the back door of a house, alley addresses would be numbered according to the current street address using the same odd or even numbers, but there’s the potential for a single building to have addresses with different street and alley names.

“Uniformity is always good for building identification,” Teddy said, but he believes there are some strategies for getting around the problem.

Council members for some time have been interested in using alleys to draw and encourage foot traffic to downtown businesses, Teddy said. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku has been among those pushing the idea, citing the success of named alleys in Jefferson City.

Overall, Teddy said, city officials generally favor naming the alleys, but there would have to be at least some basic improvements. Mayor Darwin Hindman has suggested crosswalks at alleys, and police have suggested corner mirrors so that pedestrians and drivers could see each other approaching. Then there’s the issue of whether and when to clean up and improve the alleys. Teddy said there are no immediate plans to do so.

The name game

Settling on names for the alleys is another challenge. In 2004, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Special Business District offered up five alley names that will be the subject of Thursday night’s hearing. They are McQuitty Way, Sharp End Way, Nowell’s Way, Flat Branch Way and Lancaster Way.

The commission and district felt alley names would be a good way to honor historic people and places, but there is some opposition to the names they propose. Most of the consternation has to do with Sharp End Way, the proposed name of the alley between Broadway and Walnut Street.

The Sharp End was an historic area of black-owned businesses generally west of North Seventh Street between Walnut Street and Park Avenue. It was displaced by an urban renewal effort in the 1960s.

Robert Smith, who owns property abutting the alley that would become Sharp End Way, objects to the name, saying the originally-named Sharp End area got its name because of frequent knife and razor fights in the area. Smith said he would attend the Thursday meeting and perhaps weigh in. He has already forwarded written comments to the city.

Elton Fay, who also owns a building on what might become Sharp End Way, also submitted a letter to the commission that says he finds the name offensive.

The Columbia Police Department has also weighed in, saying a former bar named the Sharp End at 609 N. Garth Ave. was frequently investigated for criminal activity. The name, police said, could be associated with disturbances, gambling and open-air drug sales.

Smith offered his own alternatives, including Blind Boone, the Barth Brothers and the Bowling Family.

“I just thought it was an opportunity to honor some of the historic families in Columbia,” he said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade agrees with Smith in concept, though he didn’t address the debate over Sharp End Way. The proposed names of McQuitty, Nowell’s and Lancaster are all intended to honor Columbia and Boone County family names.

The city can “use the naming of the alleys to recognize people in our history who have made significant contributions but who for whatever reason don’t already have a street or a building named after them,” Wade said. Putting plaques in the alleys explaining the names’ historical significance could add to the ambience, he said.

Others have practical problems with the names proposed by the Special Business District and the Historic Preservation Commission. The folks at Joint Communications said that some of the alley names would be similar to street names that already exist. There’s already a McQuitty Lane in northwest Boone County, for example, and there’s a Sharp Road east of Columbia Regional Airport. Finally, the apostrophe in Nowell’s Way would have to be removed to comply with city codes that prohibit punctuation in street names.

The Division of Protective Inspection recommends the name “way” be replaced with “alley” because alleys don’t meet street requirements. Teddy and his planning staff agree.

Thursday’s meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission begins at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway. The issue is scheduled to come up for a final vote at the council’s Oct. 15 meeting.

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